Michael Pavitt

UEFA are among the major event organisers faced with a difficult decision in the coming months, with European football’s governing body having to decide how it can stage the European Championships during a pandemic.

Initially billed by then UEFA President Michel Platini as a celebration of football across Europe, a pan-European tournament seemed complicated at the time.

The delayed 2020 tournament seems one of the least pandemic-proof events on the sporting calendar for the year, amid heightened restrictions in several countries.

The thought of staging a tournament across 12 cities in 12 different countries seems extremely challenging given the current climate, where travel corridors are being restricted to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Albeit different circumstances, the logistics and challenges already experienced by the Australian Open in flying tennis players to one venue in the circumstances would surely raise concerns about flying athletes to and from various locations.

UEFA are currently proceeding with the planned tournament, which is understandable given the work that has been put in by local organisers.

Under the current plans, Wembley in London is already set to host group stage matches, the semi-finals, and final. Munich, Rome, St Petersburg and Baku will host quarter-finals as well as group-stage clashes, while Copenhagen, Bucharest, Amsterdam, Dublin, Bilbao, Glasgow and Budapest will host group and last-16 action.

UEFA has reportedly asked the host cities to draw up plans for four different scenarios - full stadiums, 50 per cent capacity, 20 to 30 per cent capacity or behind closed doors, while there have also been suggestions organisers could reduce the number of venues used.

Another suggestion is to effectively revert back to the European Championships traditional model of having a single host, one which was put forward by Swiss Football Association President Dominique Blanc earlier this week.

"One option could be to host the Euro in one country, in Russia or Germany," he told Swiss newspaper 24 Heures.

"A second option would be to pick a metropolis with enough stadiums to stage the six groups.

"London for example."

Swiss Football Association President Dominique Blanc suggested one location should be used for the tournament ©UEFA
Swiss Football Association President Dominique Blanc suggested one location should be used for the tournament ©UEFA

Blanc’s suggestion makes sense to me for several reasons.

The coronavirus risks would surely be reduced by keeping the competing teams in a set location throughout the duration of the tournament.

I suspect a single host would be able to base teams at the training bases of club sides and benefit from the protocols they have used throughout the European club season to date.

These have largely been held successfully, albeit leagues have been impacted by postponements recently amid the rise in coronavirus cases in several countries.

An opposing view would be that UEFA has to date successfully overseen the group stages of Champions League and Europa League competitions, which has seen teams flying overseas to take part in matches, with minimal issues having been reported.

There would also be the impact on the cities who have been preparing to become hosts for the tournament and the benefits they would expect as a result.

For instance, Copenhagen’s preparations to host matches was cited among the reasons why the Danish capital’s Grand Depart of the Tour de France was pushed back to 2022.

A key question would be whether the planned host cities would really benefit from hosting in the current environment, where it seems increasingly likely that matches would have to be played with a limited crowd or no crowd at all.

UEFA are expected to decide how to proceed with the delayed European Championships in March ©Getty Images
UEFA are expected to decide how to proceed with the delayed European Championships in March ©Getty Images

The benefits secured by having visitors travel to host cities to watch matches will surely not be achieved this time around.

I believe it would be a better option for UEFA to plumb for a single host given the circumstances.

Such a move could have a silver lining as it would mitigate some of the issues the multiple host format would have had on the competition balance of the event.

The format, as it stands, leaves some teams facing lengthy trips to cities between their group matches. Their rivals on the other hand are able to train and play matches locally for at least some part of the tournament, having secured the right to stage matches.

A single venue would at least place the teams back on a near enough level playing field, despite the obvious downside of matches potentially being played behind closed doors or with minimal amounts of supporters following the teams.

European football’s governing body last year made the decision to shift the latter stages of the Champions League and Europa League tournaments to a single location.

Should UEFA make a similar decision in March, when a call is expected to be made, I would suggest it would be the correct one.